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Coursera: Get Your MOOC On!

By Guest Blogger Tara Marbach

Higher education in this country is getting prohibitively expensive for many. Even if you can afford college or a higher degree, it’s usually to fulfill requirements in your chosen curriculum and move on. There is not a lot of room for exploring one’s interests outside of the general education requirements. But haven’t you ever wanted to study something else, just for fun? Like poetry, history, computer science, genetics, astronomy… the possibilities are endless. How many of us can rationalize the cost in time and money to take real challenging courses, to take the chance at really learning something new, outside of our comfort zone?

Well, an educated public is an empowered one, so a couple of computer scientists and generous investors from some of the best universities teamed up to offer MOOCs -Massive Open Online Courses. For free. From some of the best universities in the world. To give an example of how “massive,” there are currently over 70,000 students worldwide, including myself, starting “A History of the World since 1300” this week (not too late to sign up!). There are currently 20 major universities signed on, including Ivy League universities here in the US: Baltimore’s own Johns Hopkins University, the University of
Edinburgh, two universities in India, and one in Switzerland. The course categories are too numerous to mention, so take a look for yourself . There are 124 of them. Tell me your inner nerd isn’t salivating!

Now before you say, “Sounds great but, I just don’t have the time for this,” neither do I, really. But it’s no-risk, all reward. How? You can un-enroll anytime. It’s learning for the sake of learning and there are no real grades or course credits at stake. Depending on the course, there are assignments
(peer reviewed-if you submit one, you get a handful back from your peers to review), there are readings, online discussion forums, and of course, the video lectures. There are even meetups (through happening all over the world, where students are finding other nearby students to discuss the material and study together. If you’re a serious learner, you will seriously learn. The courses use empirically-based techniques including a process called Mastery Learning, so you are actively involved and challenged with the course material. You get what you put into it, and I’m just interested in being exposed to different topics and picking up what I can while juggling two kids and a busy household. So I do some readings and watch the lectures. If they are quick, I’ll take an occasional quiz. There’s no limit to the courses you can take (I’m taking four right now). Some classes will even offer a certificate of completion. For a stay-at-home mom like myself, I welcome the opportunity to have something new to talk about with my husband and friends besides potty training and politics. So what are you waiting for?

Update: By press time, Coursera has now partnered with 17 more universities worldwide, for a total of 37 and 196 courses. Among them are nearby universities like University of Maryland and as far off as University of Melbourne.

Read more about Coursera’s founders and funders here.

For an explanation on their “pedagogical foundations” see here.

The Atlantic called Coursera “The Single Most Important Experiment in Higher Education

About Tara: Tara Marbach holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology and has diverse professional experience.  She has conducted neuropsychological evaluations for children with developmental disabilities as well as adults, both in a clinical environment and in support of various studies at Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins Hospital. She has worked with clients with traumatic brain injuries and managed their residential staff. She was also a therapist and group facilitator at a maximum-security women’s prison.  Tara is currently a busy stay-at-home mom who keeps up with politics and current events. She enjoys raising awareness and promoting education on a variety of health and societal issues.


  1. FYI for you movers and shakers in business-There are new courses that may be of interest/use. Some of them include: Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Parts I &II, Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies, and Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations.


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